I can’t believe it has been just over two weeks since my Ironman. In my perfectionist and overly timely brain, I wanted to immediately write this recap and post the day after I finished. But for two main reasons, I waited. First, rest is important. I’ve spent the past two weeks in recovery mode: fueling myself with food that nourishes my body, and some that strictly nourishes my soul (read: ice cream).
Second, this endeavor has been years and years in the making. I felt like I owed it to myself to process the end. Some of this processing is conscious, some is unconscious, but I think all of it is felt in my bones.
I’m really happy with how well planned everything ended up being. I took time to recruit friends for my race support (you need a support system), plan my race course, drive my race course, plan nutrition, gear, and the timing of the day. I think this was one of the best things I did. Obviously, most of this would have been done for you if you were doing a sanctioned event, but even so, certain things are just good to do to get your mind ready. I’ve never been a “drive the course” kind of person, but I think it was critical beyond just knowing that the mileage was going to add up. And, with one minor oops around T2 (of which I wish I could have seen my crew springing into action to fix), it did!
Getting to race day was so much more than planning a course, though. I think in one of my earliest posts I mentioned how so many people comment, “Oh, I could never do that.” I disagree soooooo hard with that mindset. When I first started doing triathlons, I didn’t know how to swim. When I first started this training cycle, I couldn’t run 2 miles. But it’s a progression. All journeys are. Everything really is. It was a constant effort. There were so many days that I didn’t want to. That I didn’t think I could. That I questioned if it was worth it.
The biggest thing I can say now is this: doing something solely for myself and proving to me that I am strong enough is absolutely, 100% “worth it.”
There were sacrifices, of course. I sacrificed sleep, some of my sanity some days, and time with loved ones (this was the hardest part). I had to really focus on my attitude on days that I was overtired and hangry. I learned flexibility and how to deal with change in a way that wasn’t known to me prior. Not everything is an emergency. Yes, I followed my training calendar as best as I possibly could: I dutifully planned every day and marked them off as I completed each workout. But I also learned to not completely spin out if I had to adjust something because, well, that’s life. I remember early on in the training cycle getting to the gym (back in the day pre-COVID when being around so many people in a sweaty gym was a thing I did daily) to do an interval workout on the bike, only to realize that I had forgotten my shoes at home. You would have thought Ohio was falling off the map with my high-level spin-out. But to my surprise, it didn’t fall off the map. The day kept going. I went home and had a good workout outside instead, and you know what? Today, I am an Iron(wo)man. That one day didn’t break it. We do the best we can, and we adjust. Constantly.
Sunday, September 13 ended up being a 14 hour, 28 minute effort of an Iron distance triathlon. Here are some of the moments that will probably forever stick with me:
- When my alarm went off. That feeling of “today is the day” is so powerful. It was also humbling, because so much of the day’s purpose was in solitude, and yet I still had such an overwhelming amount of support. My girlfriend’s words quelling my fears about the storms that were supposed to hit (and potentially completely alter) the day, filled me with so much motivation and so much excitement. “The storms passed love, you’re swimming today.”
- Getting in the water. Beginnings are always scary, and this was no different. In pitch black water, lit with my swim buoy and my girlfriend’s lights on her support kayak, one of my best friends’ countdowns would ring in my head for a good portion of the swim.
- Dawn. I thought I would be able to see, but I couldn’t. Panic set in. Breathing helps most things, turns out, and knowing who to listen for.
- I was so cold coming out of the water, and I’ve never been more excited for anything that I’ve remembered as I was when I remembered that I set out a thermos of hot water to drink for exactly that moment. Small wins are still wins: celebrate them and drink them up.
- The bike portion was honestly a blur. I remember seeing all of my favorite people, and I remember absolutely loving the rain, the course, and the fact that I felt awesome on the bike, as I was simultaneously trying to keep myself from remembering that I had a full marathon to follow. Doubt is not helpful.
- Somewhere along the first 10 miles I wondered why I created a course that included 10 miles on one single road without even one turn. On what turned out to be an 80 degree afternoon (after the most gorgeous temperatures all day of course), this was absolutely brutal. The mind games began somewhere around here. I learned to remember that we can only control what we can control, which in this instance was to hydrate and what I chose to focus on.
- We get by with a little help from our friends. My halfway point on the run was marked with an amazing family of friends, and one especially awesome person on a four-wheeler that met me at my turn and led me to my lone bathroom stop on the run course. Even after I had continued past this point, I imagined this four-wheeler leading the way home. This “way home” ended up being lined with so many people cheering me on. It brings actual tears to my actual eyes right now even typing this even though I am not a touchy-feely sort of person. The outpour of love and support was one of the biggest reasons I finished strong.
- Even with everything going, in all honesty, really well, mile 22 started with me (embarrassingly) almost letting doubt win. Pain was at an all time high, and I sat down on the side of the road. “I don’t know,” was all I could say. Thankfully, I had people around at that moment that could literally lift me up and say “YOU DO KNOW.” I did know, but sometimes we forget. Sometimes pain seems to be too much to bear. Sometimes 4 miles seems like an eternity. Sometimes we just forget how strong we are. I walked/ran for a good portion of the final miles, just nodding every time I started to question myself. Mantras are powerful, and mine now was, “YOU DO KNOW.”
- The finish line. It was dark by now, and I had my amazing SAG crew behind me at this point because of the light, which led me to a finish line that was constructed by family and one of the most amazing sights a delirious and in pain girl could imagine. Music was blaring, and my friends, girlfriend and her family who all had supported all day were all there to cheer me in. This was a moment I will never forget.
- This week, I opened a box in the mail, and my brother, with help from his wife and our family, had created medals commemorating the day. My family is states away, but moments like this remind me that we are just as close as we decide to be, and I feel very lucky to be so close.
One of my amazing friends that was absolutely integral in race day sent me this text the morning after my Iron(wo)man:
“Ellen, if you wanted your timing: first stroke @ 5:58am, crossed finish @ 8:26pm. Anything under 17 hours is “considered an Iron achievement” and a high-side estimate is that 0.01% of the population will complete an Ironman. Let all that sink in.”
It is still sinking in. But the biggest thing I know is this: we are all stronger than we think we are. I used to be a person that defined myself by what I did. Sports were my world. I don’t feel like that anymore. There is so much to this life, this world that we are in, that no one thing can be my everything anymore. Instead, I choose to bring what I love and learn through sport into the rest of the world instead of any longer thinking that it has to live separated from and more important than the rest of the world.
I am an Ironwoman.